On Monday, seeking to reassure a Britain under siege from repeated Islamist terror attacks, Theresa May promised a tougher approach.
Addressing the campaign 36 hours before the general election, the prime minister vowed to rip up UK's human rights laws to give counter-terror programs more teeth.
As Britain suffers through the throes of its latest referendum, the prospect of that anti-terror policy is now up in smoke and May's future is on shaky ground.
In hindsight, May may have had her terror epiphany a tad too late, fatally wounding her image as a tough, uncompromising leader.
Her hesitation in laying out the action plan to counter radical Islam ironically allowed Labour (of all people!) to paint her into a defensive corner on police cuts, budget squeezes and damning intelligence failures.
Her last-ditch interventionism on "longer prison sentences for people convicted of terrorist offences… making it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects to their own countries… doing more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects" and her assertion that "if human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change those laws so we can do it," appears to have convinced no one, and had the effect of handing the likes of Jeremy Corbyn more ammunition in portraying her as a fair-weather alarmist.
In many ways, this was a manifestation of May's inexperience as a leader. 'Maybot' appeared as more of a stiff upper-lipped bureaucrat who didn't know how to evolve and show leadership during a moment of crisis. And England — like rest of the world — is passing through a period of upheaval as human values and the basic civilisational tenets come under attack from a poisonous radical ideology and its mutating arms.
Remember, it was only on Saturday that three jihadists ploughed a hired vehicle into the crowd on London Bridge and unleashed long knives on unarmed civilians at the nearby Borough Market. Khuram Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba claimed "this was for Islam, for Allah" in eight minutes of pure insanity before they were neutralised. Among the Londoners out on the streets busy enjoying a Saturday night, seven lost their lives and 48 landed in hospital, some with life-threatening injuries.
This was the second terrorist attack in England in two weeks and third in three months after Westminster and Manchester. If the Tories banked on increased voter support due to consecutive terror attacks, that assumption seems to have been proved wrong.
Even though terrorism scaled high among poll issues, the British prime minister failed to make the public believe in her leadership. She is still far ahead of Corbyn in terms of popularity but May failed to capitalise on her popularity and was unable to tap into public insecurity and anger over the terror attacks.
Research by ComRes, published in the London-based Financial Times, finds that "terror and security have risen up the list of public priorities during the past month, from the fifth most important issue to the third, after NHS improvements and successful Brexit negotiations… At the same time, May’s own approval ratings on security have fallen during the course of the campaign: when asked who is most likely to keep the country safe from terror, her tally has fallen by 6 points to 41 percent, although this is still more than double (of) Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s score, which has climbed by one point to 15 percent."
The British Left has been selling the election as an endorsement of Corbyn's leadership but this spin is questionable. What is more likely is that May failed to offset the losses she suffered from shaky leadership on a slowing economy, Brexit woes, ill-advised moves such as police cuts, the 'dementia tax', her refusal to make public a report on 'terror funding' during her days as home secretary, from her political gains arising out of terror attacks. Ironically, the result now makes relevant a socialist relic in Corbyn, whom the public does not trust when it comes to national security.
Maria Balas, 28, a waitress, told The New York Times, "England is under attack and at this time we need a strong leader more than ever… I don’t like Theresa May, and I wouldn’t have bothered to vote if this election was all about giving her more power to take us into the mess of Brexit, but now we are dealing with a security crisis and I think she is the most qualified person in the running who can deal with that."
"I am voting conservative because I would never vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but May is also very weak on terrorism and is an indecisive leader without principles… she is the lesser of two evils," Claire Soltzed, 61, who owns a boutique shop in Corby, told Reuters. Taxi driver Phil Andrews said: “I hate Corbyn, he is a terrorist sympathiser.”
It seems clear that circumstances merit a tougher response from British leaders, and Corbyn, the far-left ideologue whose links with terror outfits are well documented, is hardly the answer. The parliament is hung.
The Tories settled for 318 seats, Labour 262, the SNP 35 and the Liberal Democrats 12. The magic figure is 326 out of a total 650 seats. Despite increasing pressure from within the party and outside of it, May has refused to relinquish her post and has stitched together a shaky coalition with Northern Ireland's Democrat Unionist Party (DUP) which has 10 seats.
In her quest for a stronger referendum to initiate a clean Brexit, May has not only blown her majority in parliament, she has also managed to torpedo the fight against terrorism. The tough anti-terror laws will now become almost an impossibility with Labour leaders — many of whom are terror apologists — set to get more say in policymaking.
It was a little amusing to watch Corbyn, of all people, targeting May for reducing the number of police personnel on England's streets. As Daily Mail reports, the far-left leader had called police a capitalist force who "are an enemy of the working class. Support all demands to weaken them" in 1979.
His association with Hamas and Sinn Fein are well documented. Only last month, he was condemned by even his own party after admitting that "he attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of a Palestinian terrorist involved in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre."
Between Brexit turmoil, a hung parliament and uncertainty over who could lead Britain out of this crisis, the fight against radical Islam is likely to take a backseat. Amid news that two out of the three London Bridge attackers were known to British intelligence, which failed to act in time, it raises questions whether Britain will once again settle back into mendacity and complacency over terrorism.
If so, that may be a costly mistake.
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Updated Date: Jun 10, 2017 20:13:10 IST